Magoosh English Class: Baseball in America

In lesson four of our Sports in America free English class series, we will look at America’s national pastime: baseball!

Goals:

  • Learn about basic rules and concepts in baseball
  • Learn new baseball-related vocabulary
  • Learn how to properly use a semicolon
  • Learn about some of the greatest baseball players of all time

Difficulty Level:

Advanced

Time:

Approximately 20 minutes

Baseball in America

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

Sports commentators have dubbed baseball “America’s national pastime” for good reason. Baseball is consistently one of the most-watched and played sports in the country. Whether kids are rounding the bases in Little League or professionals are hitting grand slams at the World Series, baseball is a sport for all ages. That said, it is also a very complex game with intricate rules and concepts.

Baseball Basics

Baseball consists of two teams of 9 players. Each game lasts for nine innings (with the possibility of extra innings). Unlike other field sports like football and soccer, baseball is played on a large, cone-shaped field. The infield consists of the home plate, 3 bases, and a pitcher’s mound. Alternatively, the outfield is a wide-open grassy area that marks the edge of the playing field.

Batters stand next to the home plate and attempt to hit the ball thrown by the pitcher. When a batter successfully hits the ball, they can begin running toward first base. If a batter can make it to all three bases and eventually back to home plate, this is known as a run. If a batter hits the ball beyond the outfield, this is known as a home run. The team that scores the most runs wins the game.

The Pitch

When the pitcher throws the ball toward the batter, one of five things can happen

  • The batter can hit the ball and start running toward first base
  • The batter can hit a foul ball (in which case the batter must try again)
  • The pitcher can throw a strike
  • The pitcher can throw a ball
  • The pitcher can bean the batter.

A strike means that the pitcher threw the ball over home plate and the batter failed to hit it. If a batter gets three strikes, he is “out,” which means it’s the next batter’s turn.

Alternatively, if the pitcher throws a ball, it means that they did not throw the ball over home plate and the batter did not swing. If a pitcher throws four balls against the same batter, the batter automatically gets to move to first base. The same is true if the pitcher beans (or hits) the batter with the ball. Balls and strikes are determined by an official standing behind the batter known as the umpire.

What Happens Next

Once the ball has been hit, one of the players on the opposing team can either try to catch the ball (which is an automatic “out” for the batter) or get the batter out by throwing the ball to one of the bases before the batter can reach it. When one team gets three “outs,” the teams switch places, giving the other team a chance to score runs.

Once both teams get three “outs,” the inning is over. If the teams finish 9 innings with an equal number of runs, the game goes into extra innings until a winner can be determined.

As you can see, the game of baseball is pretty complex. The sport requires a unique vocabulary just to understand the basic concepts. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most popular sports in the United States and much of the world.

It has also produced a number of famous athletes, including Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Derek Jeter, and Cal Ripken Jr. With its storied history and diehard fanbase, baseball will likely remain America’s national pastime for years to come.

Check out this video clip to get a visual breakdown of the rules of baseball:

Word Focus

Let’s take a closer look at some of the words in bold from the passage:

  • Sports commentator – (noun) – A person who gives a live, play-by-play analysis of a sports game.
    • A sports commentator helps fans understand what is happening in the game.
  • Dub – (verb) – To give a nickname or title to someone or something.
    • Fans dubbed Hank Aaron the “Hammer.”
  • Pastime – (noun) – An entertaining hobby or activity.
    • Various sports compete with baseball to be considered America’s national pastime.
  • Rounding the bases – (verb phrase) – In baseball, the act of running to first, second, and third base before attempting to reach home plate.
    • The player rounded the bases as fast as he could.
  • Grand slam – (noun) – In baseball, the act of hitting a home run with players on first, second, and third base (scoring 4 runs in total).
    • Babe Ruth hit a grand slam, helping the New York Yankees win the game.
  • Inning – (noun) – One part of a baseball game in which both teams get a turn to bat.
    • The 9th inning went on for a long time, as neither pitcher could strike out the batters.
  • Infield – (noun) – The inner part of a sports field; in baseball, the area bounded by home plate and the three bases.
    • The batter hit the ball past the infield, allowing him to get to first base.
  • Home plate – (noun) – The pentagon-shaped plate that players must touch in order to score a run.
    • The player reached home plate just in time to score a run.
  • Pitcher’s mound – (noun) – The raised area of dirt where the pitcher stands.
    • He prepared to throw a third strike from the pitcher’s mound.
  • Outfield – (noun) – The grassy area of a baseball field that sits beyond the infield.
    • The player made a diving catch in the outfield.
  • Home run – (noun) – In baseball, hitting the ball out of the park or beyond the outfield.
    • Babe Ruth hit over 700 home runs during his career.
  • Foul ball – (noun) – In baseball, when a batter hits the ball outside of the field of play.
    • The umpire called it a foul ball even though the fans disagreed.
  • Throw a strike – (verb phrase) – In baseball, when a pitcher throws the ball over home plate or the batter swings and misses the ball.
    • The Atlanta Braves’ pitcher struggled to throw a strike in the first inning.
  • Throw a ball – (verb phrase) – In baseball, when a pitcher throws the ball outside of the batter’s range and the batter does not swing at the ball.
    • The pitcher was furious when he threw a ball for the third time in a row.
  • Bean the batter – (verb phrase) – In baseball, to throw a pitch that hits the batter.
    • It was unclear if the pitcher intended to bean the batter.
  • Umpire – (noun) – The official (similar to a referee) in baseball who determines balls, strikes, foul balls, outs, and any violation of the rules.
    • The umpire threw the batter out of the game for unsportsmanlike behavior.
  • Diehard – (adjective/noun) – Passionate about a certain viewpoint or subject matter; a stubborn person.
    • He is a diehard fan of the Boston Red Sox.

Grammar Center: Semicolons

If you’ve ever had trouble figuring out when to use a semicolon, don’t worry; many native English speakers struggle to use semicolons correctly as well. However, they’re actually much easier to use than people realize.

To understand the purpose of the semi-colon a little better, let’s look at a sentence from the passage:

When the pitcher throws the ball toward the batter, one of five things can happen; the batter can hit the ball and start running toward first base, the batter can hit a foul ball (in which case the batter must try again), the pitcher can throw a strike, the pitcher can throw a ball, or the pitcher can bean the batter.

This example shows the primary purpose for a semi-colon: to connect two closely-related ideas. In order to do this, both ideas must be independent clauses that could stand on their own. Let’s look at each part of the sentence above to make sure this holds true:

When the pitcher throws the ball toward the batter, one of five things can happen…

Yes, the first clause is independent and would function as a complete sentence on its own. Now let’s look at the second part:

…the batter can hit the ball and start running toward first base, the batter can hit a foul ball (in which case the batter must try again), the pitcher can throw a strike, the pitcher can throw a ball, or the pitcher can bean the batter.

Yes, even though the second part is a list (which would usually be preceded by a colon), it is also an independent clause that is closely related to the previous clause. Thus, a semi-colon is warranted.

When deciding whether or not to use a semicolon, it’s helpful to think of semicolons as a stronger pause than a comma, but a weaker pause than a period. It’s also useful to imagine that the semicolon is a coordinating conjunction like “and” or “but.” In many cases, a semicolon can replace coordinating conjunctions to connect two independent clauses. Here’s an example:

I dropped my pencil during the test, but when I looked under my desk, I couldn’t find it!

I dropped my pencil during the test; when I looked under my desk, I couldn’t find it!

If a conjunctive adverb is used to link two ideas in a sentence, then a semicolon must be used before the adverb. Here is a list of conjunctive adverbs that can serve this function:

  • However
  • Instead
  • Therefore
  • Meanwhile
  • Consequently
  • Accordingly
  • Also

Finally, semicolons can also work to break up complicated lists. For example, here is a simple list using only commas:

I want a steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, and iced tea.

Now, let’s take the same list and make it more complex, while still only using commas:

I want a thick, juicy steak, soft, creamy mashed potatoes, savory, moist green beans, and a cold, refreshing iced tea.

The second one is kind of confusing, right? To fix this problem, we can replace the commas that actually separate list items with semicolons:

I want a thick, juicy steak; soft, creamy mashed potatoes; savory, moist green beans; and a cold, refreshing iced tea.

Voila! Now you can use semicolons to improve your own writing!

Quiz

  1. Which of the following statements most accurately captures the central idea of the passage?A. Baseball has been America’s favorite sport for well over a century.B. Despite the complexity of its rules, baseball is America’s national pastime and a popular sport across the globe.C. Baseball is both a source of entertainment and a source of controversy in the United States.D. Baseball is a popular sport that has produced great athletes like Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson.
  2. Where do batters stand?A. On the pitcher’s moundB. In the outfieldC. Next to home plateD. Near second base
  3. Based on your understanding of the word, what is a close synonym for “bean” in the phrase bean the batter?A. PushB. ThrowC. CatchD. Hit
  4. How many points result from a grand slam?A. 1B. 2C. 3D. 4
  5. A semicolon can replace all of the following words EXCEPT:A. ToB. AndC. ButD. Yet
  6. In a list, semicolons serve the following purpose:A. To make a list shorterB. To make a complex list easier to readC. To replace all commasD. To add dramatic effect
Show Correct Answers:
  1. B
  2. C
  3. D
  4. D
  5. A
  6. B
Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work. After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog. If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or his personal website!
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